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Unexpected! Chroma's Surprising Impressions of Winter 2017/2018


Surprise! It's been such a long time since I had a season that I enjoyed without some sort of a major crack in the seam. Although not every show was a slam dunk masterpiece for me, they all brought something to the table that I'd happily indulge in again. Before I even start, thank you, Winter 2017/2018. Let me shower you with some more in-depth praise.


Mahotsukai no Yome

 
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So, how did my most anticipated continuation of 2018 fare? Let's take a deep dive into the second cour.

What enticed me so much about the first season of Mahotsukai no Yome was the sense of enchantment with the world that Chise had found herself in. Nestled in the inner and outer reaches of London, it blended walks through the cloudy streets to the luscious greens of the forest with such visual grace. Overlaid right on top of the scenery was the red-haired mage of misfortune herself, Chise. Through pain and torment did she find herself in this magical world full of frights and wonder, but one thing that never changed is her truly selfless nature.

The second cour really ramps itself up, having left off on a really thematic preview in the previous season. Threads begin to unravel as the threats against Chise and her neighbours reach out from the shadows, waiting to strike at any moment. The show does a great job of creating this sense of looming dread, which was properly muted in the first half. It was really rewarding to go from an unforgettable moment of beauty like Chise carving out her own staff to an unforgettable moment of fear as something jumps out at her from behind. But once again, it's not those that lurk or those that spark actionable excitement that drew me in. It's the absolute care for the world that Chise exhibits far past her own care that makes every good and bad occurrence hold so much weight. I want Chise to be nothing but happy in the world she threw herself into after her turmoil in the human world. However, as the magical world is so colourfully splotched with both amazement and bewilderment, it shows how happiness doesn't come from just elation, but through adversity as well. And boy, does Chise have to face a lot of adversity.


Yuru Camp△

 
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Bundle up, grab the tent and hop on your little moped and go camping! Definitely a hit with many this season, Yuru Camp△ (the tent is required for the title) is actually influencing a notable number of people to get out and enjoy the camp life.

Cute as a button, this show places focus on a group of camp-happy girls who love the activity so much that they spend any semblance of free time in a camping club at school or just directly at different campsites. Blending together a slice-of-life with actual fun facts about wildlife, cooking and more, it puts you right into that relaxed mood that simulates its subject matter perfectly. The lighthearted comedy is interspersed between the discoveries of new camping opportunities and finds, cleverly portrayed by the girls sending beautiful landscape shots of their surroundings to each other. It might sound like 12 episodes of girls finding random campsites and pitching tents would get boring at first- I mean, camping is camping, right? However, it's not always about the search for pizzazz and flair that works, and Yuru Camp△ proved to me yet again that a show that is as literally down-to-earth as possible can offer such a rewarding experience. I already miss the laid-back, feel-good emotions it brought on a weekly basis.


Sora Yori mo Toi Basho

 
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"Life is a journey, not a destination", and very rightfully so. For the Antarctic-crazed Shirase though, a destination has been in her eyes for quite some time. Having saved up a hefty sum of money through determination, she aspires to reach the snowy climates of Antarctica in search of her mother who was lost in a heavy snowstorm. Synchronously, the lives of three other girls collide with Shirase's optimism, and in search of an opportunity to break free of their mundane youths, they tag along for the icy waters ahead.

I think it's best to jump into this series without any sort of reveal towards its structure and progression. Sora Yori mo Toi Basho plays with the idea that the moment of arrival is accentuated purely through the journey it took to reach it in the first place. The Antarctic backdrop is a constant focus, but in the sense that it stays with you from the beginning of the show, right up until the end. With the all-star cast of seiyu and a fantastic ending song of aspiration, week-by-week you truly feel like someone who is excited to venture forth into the unknown. Through the troubles and hardships, you find solace in being there with your friends, no matter how many hurdles you face on the experience. The four girls vastly ranging in personalities adequately presents that ideal of "unity-through-discovery" with such simplistic grace.

The key moment that got me and I'm sure a ton of other people was when Shirase actually comes across her mother's trail. A rather short moment in the grand scheme, but quite powerful on an emotional front. It's almost poetic in how the show ends, and I'm really glad to have been able to come along for the freezing cold ride throughout the winter season.


Mitsuboshi Colors

 
 

Colors Power! This is a story of how a sadistic gamer, reserved leader, and a potty addict go on wonderfully imaginative adventures to protect the town they reside in.

Mitsoboshi Colors is heaps of fun, from the cute protagonists to the very memorable music and even more unforgettable scenarios the girls cook up on a daily basis. When your first episode highlights three children holstering an RPG towards a station policeman, you know the bar's already been dropped through the floor. As the series goes on, the Colors run through the town involving the surprisingly eager citizens in their newest childhood games. A simple game of zombie tag spreads much further than one would anticipate, to recall one instance.

It's the little things that made this show so enjoyable for me. The jokes have this great range of "those are some hilarious glasses he's wearing", all the way to "that's way too real for a kid to be saying", and it's absolutely unapologetic in its delivery as well, adding to the hilarity. The dynamic trio also have a plethora of different approaches to comedy while playing beautifully against each other, making them feel like a goofy team that was just fated to be the self-proclaimed heroes of the town. If I saw just how innocently driven these kids were in real life, I'd easily be enticed to join in on their fun too. Maybe that's the true heroism of the Colors.


Aikatsu Stars!

 
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Well, we've reached the end of a 100 episode road. Through all of my seasonal requests for everyone to check out the Aikatsu! franchise, I've been harbouring mixed feelings towards Aikatsu Stars!. Let me explain in further detail.

You see, this series has a lot of what I really loved about the original Aikatsu!. Cute-as-sin characters, great 3D CG performances, an incredible OST and a message of seeking out constant betterment of oneself. However, Stars has this tendency to run at 70% capacity, leaving me with this constant underlying want for the show to be much, much better. There's a lack of a solid woven structure to the episodes, the performance song selection is barren in comparison to the original series, and a lot of characteristics and challenges are downright thrown out and forgotten about as it progresses. By the end, it actually really made me want to rewatch the original show just to remind me that the show I fell in love with was still there. As much I love many things about Stars, that's really not a great thing.

I give such harsh criticism to this series because I have such appreciation for the franchise as a whole. Instead of adding more to the story that could really do with some remodeling and patching, it has come to an abrupt end to be replaced by an entirely new series next season, Aikatsu Friends. I sit idly in anticipation for the show to recapture its godly seat above the idol anime world, and I wish it well. Unfortunately for me, Aikatsu Stars aimed a bit too high, and flew in the sun.


Citrus

 
 

Sisterly love with Taketatsu Ayana, where have I heard of that before?

In all seriousness though, I knew nothing about this show going into it, expect for the fact that it was pretty forthcoming with its passionate romance. Diving right in, I found a fashionable high schooler who had found herself at a new school with an insane binding to its strict rules. Through a prickly introduction to the groundskeeper of these rules, protagonist Yuzu slowly finds herself infatuated by this student council president with long, black hair.

I would say out of all of the series on this list, this is the one I connected with the least. In no way did I find it insulting or poorly made, but nothing about it jumped out and encapsulated me in its presentation. I found Yuzu as a whole to be pretty cute with her hopeless romantics flying all over the place, but the moody atmosphere a lot of these characters around her created this disconnect that I just couldn't shake. I didn't really find anyone else other than Yuzu to be interesting, and I wish the show had a more genuine connection for her to fall for. I do think Citrus delves into some intriguing moments, I just don't think it's for me with how serious it took itself. Perhaps for something as straight out luscious as this is versus how contrasted the two romantic ends were, it would have worked better with a lighter tone. Or perhaps it's just me.


Violet Evergarden

 
 

"KyoAni's just showing off now."
- Our weekly motto for Violet Evergarden

A feast for the eyes, Violet Evergarden etches the emotions of a torn and damaged battle tool who traumatically lost her Major to a bloody war. In hopes to understand the Major's final words of love to her, Violet enlists to become a ghostwriting Doll; a profession she is not characteristically set for in any way.

Episode by episode, Violet interacts with different people wanting to write a letter for their own personal reasons. Be it a declaration of love or a heartfelt apology, the idea of words carrying weight is highlighted here, and with a great approach. By having a supposedly empty shell of a protagonist jump headfirst into these requests that can only come from the bottom of one's heart, it paints the picture that we all walk a fine emotional line. Only through acceptance of our own humility do we bear our true colours, and I see the mysterious symbols used as characters in the letters as a representation of that. The conflicts occur strictly through the voiced dialect we understand, but they are always resolved by the beauty of the letters we cannot read without translation. I think it's a beautiful metaphor of expression.

The show is heightened even further with the breathtaking visuals, as expected at this point from Kyoto Animation. Attempting to constantly outdo themselves, they placed a great amount of care into their background textures and the lighting that plays with that element. Movement of time whirs by through gorgeous timelapse shots that would be impressive through a professional's camera, let alone an illustrated sequence. I had no idea what to expect after catching an early watch of the first episode at Anime Expo 2017, but I'm really glad it offered me so much by the end.


Koi wa Ameagari no You ni

 
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This should be our city's poster anime. Rain, rain, rain and more drenching rain. Sitting through this 12 episode romance just fills me with atmosphere of our lovely city, likely minus the unique scenario of this particular romance.

Interestingly, the romance element does not flow with the normality of the genre. The high school ex-runner Akira works at a family restaurant where she has an infatuation with her leaps-and-boundaries-older manager. As society idles nearby and lists off everything that is considered wrong with this pairing, the story does a fantastic job presenting itself through Akira's young love eyes. Her persistence must be commended, fixating her eyes on a 45 year old man whom she receives her bi-weekly cheques from. This tough-skinned approach reflects into Akira's personality itself, spending ample time giving us gorgeous closeups of her love-filled irises.

I adored how this series doesn't go too far over any edge. It dances with the idea that young aspirations of love can stretch past the boundaries of age, and it allows the two characters to venture forth into this scenario together. Simultaneously, there's a connecting story of how Akira came to quit the track team and slow her runs down to a walking pace instead of moving forward with her goals. Instead of running circles around progression towards the successful start of a relationship, Koi wa Ameagari no You ni weaves these two major lines into a tapestry that is, at times, absolutely stunning to look at. I mean that in both a visual and metaphorical sense.


Hakumei to Mikochi

 
 

"Japanese smurfs", my friend calls it, much to my weekly chuckles. Hakumei to Mikochi are the large adventures of two very small people.

This is an absolutely "feel great" show. From the beginning, both the fabric-loving songstress Mikochi and the bold tradesman Hakumei are a wonderful pair, showcasing how tight-knit a friendship can be. They brave treks into the forest filled with much larger creatures in search of supplies, spend entire days in the city square filled with merchants, and sometimes they'll even just be experimenting with recipes.

The scale of everything around Hakumei and Mikochi are what gives this series so much depth and intrigue. What we see as a small grape can act as an entire dinner for these miniature girls, and even in a world inhabited by mostly larger items and critters, they manage to be adventurous, resourceful and creative. It's an absolute joy just seeing how this civilization of tiny characters can utilize what they have to such extents, even more so than what we as humans take for granted. The whole package is bundled up with a soundtrack that just send a calming breeze through your senses, creating this beautiful medley of engagement. From beginning to end, not a single moment was wasted in my eyes, and it's definitely even something that I'd be happy to rewatch at some point.


Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card-hen

 
 

Oh hello again, my childhood. Growing up in a family that was not rich by any means, cable TV was such a marvel when I finally had access to it in my preteen years. While I had the obligatory entry point of Pokémon, anime really changed for me when I was struck with the majesty of the maho shojo genre through Cardcaptors. It took a long time for me to discover that the televised version in the west was a stilted version, as the incredible OST of the Japanese version washed over me like a tsunami. The elation only continued as I unearthed an unfiltered story that incorporated genuine romance and even homosexuality into what localization feared to show children. I couldn't believe just how much I had missed the first time around.

When I got to the end of Cardcaptor Sakura, I was way more than satisfied. A continuation never even crossed my mind, yet 20 years later, Clear Card-hen comes along out of nowhere. I didn't know what to think. The animation style looked quite different, but it seemed to promise a direct continuation of where I had left the series last. My only concerns stemmed from the fact that the original series hit such a high, and I only could hope that 20 years later, it could still maintain that same level of wonder. After 12 weeks, I am absolutely ecstatic to report that Clear Card-hen is a smash hit with me. It not only introduces an entirely new layer of intrigue with the cards turning clear and taking on fascinating new forms, but it does this with constant nods back to the original series' best traits. A beautiful blend of incredible new and old music, a star-winged staff that flourishes in mesmerizing crystal towers, and so many other lovely upgrades that I can't even go into here. The enticement of completely new cards and powers alone (and Sakura's colourful wardrobe) is more than enough to bring me back over and over, but this show really does go above and beyond. Absolute kudos.


ReLIFE: Kanketsu-hen

 
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Do we have to call this "Re-ReLIFE" or something? I suppose not, as Kanketsu-hen acts as a continuation and finalization of the ReLIFE series. My introduction to the existence of this 4 episode special was through a wave of disdain from readers of the original manga. Supposedly, Kanketsu-hen stuffed 114 chapters of content into these mere 4 episodes, and that's a heck of a lot to be squishing down. I will give the immediate disclaimer that I have not read the manga and am just offering my opinion.

ReLIFE was a ton of fun for me, and surprisingly so, as I originally did not intend to watch it. In fact, it was the mere fact that all of its episodes were released at the same time that enticed me to pick it up, as I had never run across a series that adhered to that style of release. In the end, I was met with a pretty solid slice-of-life mixed in with some very real topics of humanity and life that I very much appreciated. Social awkwardness especially was my connector, as it practically mirrored how I was like pushing through my high school years.

So as an anime-only exposure, does Kanketsu-hen fall apart in any sense? For the most part, I didn't think so. It was nice after so long to get some sense of closure to the ReLIFE project and how our cast of characters dealt with the bizarre venture of reliving their high school days ending. For crushing down 114 chapters worth into 4 episodes, I'd say they did alright. Granted, I would definitely have not been against a second season, but I have no complaints about the amount it decided to cap itself off on. My only one complaint is that the jump to the project's end does come pretty abruptly, and as much as I'd like to jump in and blame the short length as the perpetrator, I look at the message presented and see opportunities in which they could have carried it out much smoother. I was just too busy enjoying the return to this great show to be bitter about something like that.

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